Courtesy of Princeton University Library
This photograph is of three white British officers from the 1st West India Regiment, which played an important role in putting down the Morant Bay Rebellion (11 October 1865), plus a black sergeant from the same unit.
Major-General Luke Smythe O'Connor was the commander of the 1st West India Regiment and also had overall command of all other British military forces in Jamaica during the Morant Bay Rebellion. In theory, O’Connor took his orders directly from Governor Edward John Eyre, but he and the individual officers under his command had a lot a leeway to do things their own way when they were out in the field.
We do not know the name of the man of African descent who stands behind the three white officers. His rank can be seen from the three stripes that appear on his right sleeve – he is a sergeant. Sergeants played a vital role, serving as a link between the officers and ordinary soldiers who made up the bulk of any military unit. From the establishment of the West India Regiments until the time that this photograph was taken, no black men had risen above the rank of sergeant, and all the officers were white.
The photograph was taken sometime after the Morant Bay Rebellion had been ended, after hundreds of Jamaican men and women had been killed. It was a posed photograph, taken in a studio in Jamaica. This and other photographs of those military officers who had been involved in ending the Rebellion were collected by many people, including some by officers themselves. For example, this particular one is from the photography album put together by a British Army officer, Alexander Dudgeon Gulland, who was a military surgeon in the 6th Foot Regiment. The album includes photographs of some of the white people killed during the first part of the Morant Bay Rebellion – though none of the black men and women who were killed are featured. This and similar photographs were bought by white Jamaicans after the Morant Bay Rebellion.